Over 40 million men, women, and children have been sold into labor and sex slavery. This estimate was reported in 2018, with the numbers continuing to rise. Statistics reveal the problem isn’t limited to impoverished, developing nations. Sex trafficking is a global crisis targeting mostly women, girls and the LGBTQ community. One of the methods the U.S. State Department is employing to track, arrest, and prosecute sex traffickers: Artifical Intelligence (AI).
AI Tech Being Used by Law Enforcement
In 2018, legislation was passed to shut down back-channel trafficking websites such as Backpage.com, where sex workers, pimps, and traffickers placed ads for sexual services. Sites like these are monitored by law enforcement in their search for traffickers. Recently, they’ve been turning to new tools, including Marinus Analytics’ Traffic Jam.
Traffic Jam uses AI facial recognition technology to scan illegal sex ads online and match them to images of missing persons or social media posts. This technology cuts law enforcement’s work nearly in half and yields an 88% success rate, helping retrieve victims and shutting down criminal networks.
Dan Lopresti, chair of the department of science and engineering at Lehigh University’s P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science, conducts research on fundamental algorithmic and systems-related questions in pattern recognition, bioinformatics and security. Lopresti tells Parentology he sees possibilities for AI to track and stop illicit online activity — through technologies like data and graph mining — before an actual crime takes place.
“We’re interested in networks of activity and patterns of behavior,” Lopresti says. “Like Google, Facebook, and others [platforms] are trying to understand user behavior, AI helps identify target patterns and behaviors to help law enforcement.”
Indeed, in October, Facebook announced it had been using AI software for over a year to flag sexualized images of children. Through this technology, Facebook detected 8.7 million images within a three-month period, removing 99% of them before they were reported by Facebook users. Details of the potential abuse were passed on to the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The company is also using AI to track groomers. As Facebook also owns Instagram, it’s looking at using AI on that platform, as well.
New Ways AI is Eradicating Sex Trafficking
The United Nations (UN) estimates human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry. The goal the UN has set for ending global slavery and sex trafficking: 2030. New technology is upping the ante to help this happen.
Making strides in Spain, the University of Leon and Spanish National Cybersecurity Institute (INCIBE) have developed AI that identifies objects in crime scene photographs and links them to other police cases. The hope is this will be another useful tool, like facial recognition technology, in locating missing persons.
Another huge advancement is tracking slavery from space via satellite imagery. Planet Labs and The Rights Lab’s “Slavery from Space” use “data captured by satellites to map and measure slavery, using both new machine learning techniques and citizen science methods.”
And just last month, IBM, Western Union and European police began an AI collaboration that shares financial data to predict human trafficking.
As for the UN’s goal of eradicating human trafficking by 2030 — the use of AI technology is bringing that target closer to sight.
International Labour Organization
Reuters: Grooming is Gateway to Child Sex Trafficking as Seducing Moves Online
New York Times: Trump Signs Bill Amid Momentum to Cut Down on Trafficking
Springer Link: Object Detection for Crime Scene Evidence Analysis Using Deep Learning
Forensics Magazine: Virtual Case Notes: How AI Can Fight Human Trafficking with Just One Picture
BBC: How AI is Helping to Fight Crime
Reuters: Embrace AI, Technology to Beat Human Traffickers